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Surviving the Storms: Repair Shop Disaster Prevention Tips

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The American Red Cross spotlights ways to protect your facility and crew from devastating natural and man-made catastrophes.

Amidst the leveled structures, flooded cars and displaced victims, the United States is still reeling from the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma — two record-breaking storms that made landfall in Texas and Florida respectively this month. While recovery responses have been swift, the financial tolls these disasters created have been all but too much for the affected to bear.

Steven Jensen, Ph.D., who holds a doctorate in public policy and acts as a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, is a disaster prevention expert.

Photo courtesy American Red Cross

Steven Jensen, Ph.D., is a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council.

Currently, estimates place Hurricane Harvey’s property and damage loss between $70 billion and $108 billion and Irma at $50 billion up to $100 billion — staggering figures that may have been lower if more people made the appropriate disaster prevention moves when securing their homes and businesses. September marks National Preparedness Month, so we reached out to the American Red Cross to understand what measures shop owners should take to not only safeguard their facilities but also bounce back from catastrophic events.

Floods and fire are the two most financially devastating natural and man-made disasters. To walk us through the policies and procedures operators should have in place against them, we secured an exclusive interview with Steven Jensen, Ph.D., who holds a Doctor of Philosophy in public policy and serves as a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council.

What are the chief measures operators should take in the event of a flood?

First, shop owners should not get into that situation to begin with. So, if they have the option of locating the business on higher ground, that’s the best bet [Editor’s note: Consult FEMA’s flood map to determine viable areas.] — but that’s not going to be realistic for everyone. Then, it’s important to start looking at the nature of the flood risk and if they can move their machinery to higher areas or find a safe spot for critical supplies away from the shop on a temporary basis.

The other thing that takes down a lot of small facilities is the loss of records, such as key documents and accounts receivables. The information needs to be kept in a secure place and everything must be backed up daily.

What about structure fires?

We know what causes them: faulty electrical equipment and hazardous operations, such as welding that’s done too close to flammable materials. We have building codes and different trade practices that help us reduce the risk, so everyone should stay vigilant. Sometimes, it’s as easy as moving a welding operation to a safer area, monitoring the sparks that come off a grinder or making sure they’re not overloading an extension cord. It’s these things that make a difference.

Shop Owner Case Study:
Maintaining the
Market Share

For any business, surviving a natural or man-made disaster involves more than simply weathering the storm. In the wake of any major catastrophe, repair facilities can lose a crippling portion of their customer base if they’re non-operational for too long.

“There will be loyal patrons who come back no matter what,” says Steven Jensen, Ph.D., who holds a doctorate in public policy and acts as a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, “but there’s market share that’s lost when you’re out of business for a considerable period of time.”

That’s why true disaster prevention requires having a realistic game plan of how your location is going to bounce back and retain buyers once the dust settles.

Rich Naber and his facility Rich’s Auto Tech in West Melbourne, Florida, recently endured the havoc wrought by Hurricane Irma. And, while his shop was only out of commission for four days, he’s making sure it gets back on its feet and remains a place his customers can count on.

Rich Naber, owner of Richs Auto Tech

Photo courtesy Rich’s Auto Tech

Rich Naber, owner of Rich’s Auto Tech in West Melbourne, Florida.

“All you can do is stay mentally prepared,” he says. “You need to be up on your marketing and ready to hit the ground running as soon as the power gets turned back on.”

For Naber, this involves promoting his location on social media and ramping up the number of text and email blasts he sends to his buyers. “We’re also putting together a ‘wow card,’” he says. “Basically, it’s a plastic covered pop-out card that we send in the mail, and it gives our customers a ‘spend $50 get $50 [discount].’”

Beyond reeling in more repair orders, Naber highlights how important it is for you and your facility to be reliable places of support for your community during the aftermath. “The customers just want to know that you’re here for them,” he says. “You need to listen, allow them to talk it out and let them know you’re here to help them with whatever their automotive needs may be.”

Which supplies should operators keep in their facilities to prepare for a flood or fire?

Let’s set the context for that question: I think it’s crucial that owners realize just how vital they are to a recovery operation or even response. They’re a big link in the supply chain. And, being able to keep cars and trucks running facilitates the process.

In addition, all of these shops will be dependent on parts suppliers and people who can repair their equipment. It’s essential that they know who they’re relying on and ensure those individuals can be there on the day when they [are needed most]. It might just be as simple as asking their parts supplier or someone who helps keep their gear going, “How far [will you go]  to get these components to me after a disaster?”

The business interruption can also hurt some of these smaller locations. Customers may go somewhere else [when you’re down], so it makes good fiscal sense to avoid the loss of that market share [for more on recovering after a natural disaster, read Weathering the Storm].

Are there any emergency disaster prevention tools or items owners should keep handy?

There are the basics, such as a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher [for a complete list of general emergency preparedness supplies, click here]. But it’s necessary to realize that [in the case of a devastating event], it could be a few days before you return home. Therefore, you want to have provisions on hand, so you can take care of yourself if you’re stuck somewhere for a while.

What training should shop owners provide their employees for dealing with man-made or natural catastrophes?

At a minimum, going through a first-aid course. We have a major push right now on controlling bleeding, which is where operators could potentially have problems. There’s a lot of material available on the topic, and kits, such as small tourniquets, are easy to use and can handle the bleeding.

The other thing is obviously CPR training. There’s a move toward hands-only CPR, which is a lot more accessible and doesn’t involve the [mouth-to-mouth] rescue breaths. The course can be taught in 30 to 45 minutes and gives students the basic skills to potentially save a life.

What are the greatest challenges proprietors face when returning to operational levels after a disaster?

The big things you can expect are [obtaining] supplies and [working with]  parts vendors. Having damaged critical equipment often brings people down as well. It’s understanding the components of the operation and having the redundancy and ability to repair or get them up and running again.

Are there any other obstacles?

Most shop owners are probably straddling a pretty fine line between the accounts receivable and the bills that have to be paid. So, ensuring there’s an adequate cushion to get by for a couple weeks or months when the money isn’t coming in is a significant strategy, particularly if they’re dependent on electronic forms of payment.

Are there additional disaster prevention policies or procedures operators should have in place to address flood or fire risks?

They certainly want to make sure they’re conforming to all the workplace safety regulations. Nobody wants to get sued or be out of compliance, and most of these rules are fairly straightforward. That will take you a long way toward having a more robust business. Maybe it’s investing in extra supplies or doing things right before the disaster, but it pays off significantly.

And, you certainly want to ensure you follow all the requirements from insurance companies because they can be very particular in verifying everything was up to speed. You don’t want a claim denied when you’re depending on that policy to kick in.

What advice do you have for shop owners affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma?

They’re probably going to be in this for a long time just getting cleaned up and back to a reasonable state. I think it’s imperative that people understand just how difficult this can be and the toll it can take on health as well as the emotional drain that comes with it. They need to be patient, take care of themselves and find individuals to rely on for that extra support.

Which disaster prevention tools does the American Red Cross have that can improve the ability to withstand natural or man-made catastrophes?

It’s become increasingly valuable for proprietors to show their community that they’re going to be there after a disaster.

The Ready Rating™ program is a step-by-step resource that businesses can use to gear up for a catastrophe. It helps them identify the sort of problems they could have and the plans they should be putting in place. And, it gives them a tool they can use to assess their progress toward building a robust operation that’s prepared.

They can do it at different levels, too. If they just have an evening to go through it, they can get some basic disaster prevention plans together. If they want to take it to the next level over time, they can do that too. It will also help them identify where their priorities could be while putting their strategies together. It’s become increasingly valuable for proprietors to show their community that they’re going to be there after a disaster.

Editor’s note: Please stay tuned for Surviving the Storms: Part 2, in which we will feature several shop owner case studies in the January issue of Today’s Heavy Duty Shop!

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